by Michael Fischer
HONG KONG (Compass) -- Reports from Laos say the number of Christians held by the government has dropped in recent months. Although the Lao Constitution provides for freedom of religion, the government continues to restrict the right to practice religion.
Sources say 27 Christians are currently imprisoned by the government for their faith, including seven known convicted Christian prisoners and 20 Christian detainees. The Christians have been detained in the following provinces: Savannakhet, 4; Attapeu, 9; Houaphanh, 2; Oudomxay, 4; Luang Prabang, 3; Phongsaly, 2; and Vientiane, 3.
The drop in numbers follows the release of several Christians in June. But despite the releases, the crackdown against Christians continues, and in recent weeks, the government has arrested more Christians and continues to close down churches. Sources are also expressing fears that the crackdown is getting close to the capital Vientiane.
The Lao government has avoided taking action in Vientiane for fear of international condemnation.
Sources say the authorities in Luang Prabang and Savannakhet provinces continue to force hundreds of Christians to sign affidavits renouncing their faith. They point out that the new affidavit does not say anything about Christianity but instead focuses on being misled by the foreign religion, a reference to Christianity.
Officials force Christians to renounce their faith in front of other believers and, in some cases, are forcing Christians to return to animistic practices by taking part in blood sacrifices. Some civil servants are also threatened with loss of their positions if they do not sign the affidavits.
Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.